Three members and one honorary member of the 500 Home Run Club ® formed and refined their skills in the Negro League.
Dubbed the “Say Hey Kid” when he played semiprofessional baseball at the age of 16, Willie Mays joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League in 1948, playing only on Sunday during the school year. The National League New York Giants paid the Barons for his contract when he graduated from Fairfield Industrial High School in 1950.
After two seasons in the minor leagues, Mays went to the Giants in 1951. His career home run total was 660 and his batting average .302. He led the league in home runs in 1955, 1962, and 1964-65.
Originally playing for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, Aaron was the last player from the Negro Leagues to reach the Majors in 1954 when he signed with the Milwaukee Braves at age 20. Known as the player who broke Babe Ruth's career home run record, “The Hammer” was more than just a slugger: he was a real American hero who broke down racial barriers to pursue his dream.
By the end of his 23-year career, Aaron held more MLB batting records than any other player in history, including most home runs (lifetime 755) and most RBIs (lifetime 2,297). He became the first big leaguer to total 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks never played minor league ball, jumping directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Chicago Cubs. During his rookie MLB season, Banks hit an record-setting 44 homers, five of them came with the bases loaded. As fearless as he was popular with the Cubs faithful and fans nationwide, Banks went on to hit 512 home runs and win two MVP awards in a Hall of Fame career.
Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks have each received the esteemed Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Among the biggest draws in the Negro Leagues, Josh Gibson is generally considered one of the most prodigious power hitters in baseball history.
“The Black Babe Ruth” led the Negro National League in home runs for 10 consecutive years, while playing catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays. He hit an amazing 75 home runs in 1931. Belting home runs of more than 500 feet was not unusual for Gibson.
One homer in Monessen, Pa., reportedly was measured at 575 feet. He reportedly slugged one over the third deck in Yankee Stadium in 1934, for the only fair ball hit out of the House That Ruth Built.